Over on Twitter, I’ve just been reminded about one of the things I saw in Zimbabwe when I visited back in the late 90’s. There were these wonderful plastic lizards someone had dumped all over the rocks outside Bullawayo. Casting line around them, unreal colours, the works. And then they ran off as we approached! That’s not the subject of this blog post, but it did get me thinking about some of the amazing dining experiences I’ve had in Zim and South Africa.
#1 – Day 1 in Zimbabwe.
We’d been travelling for best part of a day. This was the first time I’d travelled with my not-yet-wife out of the UK, we were visiting some of her family. Arriving at Gatwick by coach from Edinburgh at stupid-o’clock to catch a plane a dozen hours later. Changed planes (and clothes) at Harare, were met by Jo’s relatives at the small (hadn’t seen Sumburgh by that point) airport outside Bullawayo.
“Welcome! We’re going to pick up dinner on the way home. We’ve got the first of these restaurants in the country, we got it before Harare!” They were thrilled. Couldn’t wait to show us this fantastic dining experience. What could it possibly be?
Yep. The Colonel’s chicken. My first meal in Africa was a piece of chicken breast/wing/spinal column and some generochips from a paper bucket.
The food in Zim improved over the weeks that followed, but I’m still not a fan of sadza. Those steaks in Vic Falls, though! Wow.
#2 – Knysna.
It was one of those days. Too hot, too little to do, we’d done the boat trip and we (now my wife and I, 2 small kids and our au pair) were all hungry. Didn’t fancy the pub menus, weren’t going to pay restaurant prices when the kids wouldn’t eat much anyway and we couldn’t spot a Spur, our go-to restaurant that holiday.
Then we spy Nandos and think “yeah, bit of chicken, bit of spice, it’ll be great.” What could possibly go wrong…?
Well, in case you don’t know, Nandos in Knysna is conveniently situated on the main road – no bypass, just all the traffic travelling along the Garden route to and from Cape Town. Not only that, but it’s right next door to the main petrol station, so the wonderful atmosphere is enriched with petrol, diesel, and exhaust fumes. Add to that the refurbishment works being done – one gentleman with a hole-cutter drill trying to enlarge the hole he’d already cut in the metal ceiling plate and no, he wasn’t going to stop just because there were customers trying to order.
Kids were happy. Lovely chicken burgers, drinks and a laughing blackcurrant toy that would annoy us in the car for weeks afterwards. The adults, on the other hand… Chicken with extra PAIN. I swear the must’ve mixed up their sauces, or re-labelled them, or just thought they’d have a laugh and inflict agony on us. I have a decent chilli tolerance and this stuff was making me cry. We were stealing bread from the kids’ burger buns, just to try and get rid of some of the heat! Our au pair’s dish came with rice. We all thought that would be a good, safe, bet to mop up some heat – nope, they’d doused that in the sauce as well.
We left that place in tears and agony. Cold Coke from a glass bottle took the edge off it and the tears became tears of laughter as we retold the story in the car on the way back to our caravan.
#3 – Rusks
Not a meal I partook of, but our au pair. She’d not been feeling great and had latched on to South African Rusks as being near-identical to some comfort food from Slovakia. At breakfast one morning, she emerges from her tent holding her bag of rusks at arms’ length.
“How are the rusks?”
“I don’t know. Ask my animals.”
The bag is crawling with ants. On the inside.
#4 – The good times
Not every meal at that end of Africa is a bad one! Sundowners in Plettenberg, overlooking the sea, serve the best calamari. Spier, a luxury hotel in the Stellenbosch region, have the most amazing buffet restaurant with tables built up into the trees surrounding it. Entertainers – singers, musicians, magicians, come to your table and entertain you! Beer and T-bone steaks at Victoria Falls! We’d gone there at the height of the BSE crisis in the UK and it was a pleasure to be able to order a T-bone, even more when the chef knew how to cook it blue and did a mean monkey gland sauce to go with it. Oh, and the French? “I’ll have the ladies fillet steak, please and a glass of red wine.” He could not have been more of a racial stereotype if he’d tried.
Tanzania, about 20 minutes north of Dar es Salaam, there’s a beach resort. I discovered this whilst recovering from an incredible number of mosquito bites and chatting with fellow hotel guests over breakfast. No, I didn’t have any insect repellent, my fiancée was already in Zimbabwe and was bringing it up – in a few days. Anyway. Skip to the end and we spend a few days there after climbing Kilimanjaro. They did fresh fish. And by “fresh” I mean the chef would walk down the beach and get the catch of the day straight off the fishermen. One day, that catch included a particularly large lobster. Sliced in half, thermidore’d and served to us, it was absolutely divine.
Also in Tanzania were the most gorgeous kofta kebabs. Okay, so the chilli sauce gave the unsuspecting diner the runs, but they were fantastic. We were eating them 3 or 4 at a time.
Ostrich espetada in South Africa. Slow cooked duck and goose in Slovakia. Mexican food in Texas. Done pretty well around the world.
So come on, your worst dining experiences, if you please. The ones that make you cry with laughter when you’re telling your friends.